Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Before opening, finishing touches

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

While expensive new Pulaski County Special School District schools are poised for construction in Maumelle and Sherwood, students at Jacksonville schools will again make do with less.

The kitchen may not be up to speed for the start of Jacksonville Middle School classes at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, but principal Veronica Perkins said the school is repaired and refreshed and the staff eager to get started.

Less than a mile away, Jacksonville Elementary School reopens on the heels of an unfavorable inspection by city code inspectors, who reported dozens of hazards and violations after an Aug. 7 visit.

In an Aug. 11 letter to the district, senior building inspector Martin J. Sanady wrote, “Some of these violations are more significant than others; however, collectively allowing children back into the building gives pause.”

Sanady advised the district to address some of the more serious violations, such as open or compromised electrical equipment or tripping hazards, before the opening of school and to submit a plan of correction, complete with timeline, by Monday.

Calls to PCSSD to discuss the elementary school were not returned.

“We have not received a response to the letter,” said city administrator Jim Durham.

Among the problems cited after the elementary school inspection were roof damage, gable and louver damage, improper wiring methods, and cracked and broken electrical switches and outlets.

Bathroom stall dividers were falling off the walls and bathroom countertops are delaminating, which creates the potential for mold and or disease. Not all bathroom receptacles were safety receptacles, both a microwave and refrigerator are plugged into an extension cord and open junction boxes were found in several locations.

Walkway railings are in disrepair, and there is no pan under the hot-water heater.

Sanady warned that failure to submit a repair plan by Aug. 24 would result in further action.

Durham said he was particularly concerned over an area where the electrical conduit is separated and wires are pinched and tied to a metal sidewalk canopy.

“That’s an extremely dangerous situation,” he said.

The middle school was already in disrepair. With the doubling of the student body caused by combining the single-gender boys and girls middle schools, much work was needed.

Workmen, cleaning crews and teachers swarmed over the middle school Tuesday trying to get everything ready for the arrival of the first bus of students at 7:50 a.m. today, according to principal Perkins.

Perkins said the kitchen might not be ready for the first day of school, in which case students will get sack lunches. “We have contingency plans for sack lunches for the first two days,” she said.

Other than that, “It’s going to be a normal first day,” she said. “The school looks really good. We’ll face the same challenges that anyone else will face and (if needed) we’ll follow protocols.”

She said Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes rounded up volunteers who painted classrooms for three days.

Four portable classroom buildings will be ready, she said. But workers still toiled to bolt together the halves of the fifth portable. It is for instructional coaches and a special-education laboratory, she said.

“The classroom portables are newly wired and the air conditioning is running,” she said.

Next door to the Jacksonville Middle School, the innovative Star Academy, a dropout prevention program, still had room for more students, according to principal Charlotte Wallace. The program has room for 80 students, but only about 50 had committed, Wallace said late Monday.

“The parents and kids are excited and we’re still in the process of recruiting,” she added.

She said the Star Academy could accept new students only through the fifth day, because the classes are so concentrated that it would be too late for a new student to catch up after that.

The program helps students graduate in a timely fashion.